There has been a lot of back-and-forth lately about the different methods of court reporting and how well they can take down the record and produce a transcript. These exchanges have included misunderstandings, half-truths, and anger on all sides. I first want to establish the facts that almost everyone accepts to be true.
- There is a shortage.
- The industry needs over 5,500 reporters.
- The shortage is not evenly distributed and is hitting certain areas harder than others.
- Stenography schools cannot keep up with the demand for new reporters.
- Voice Writing and Digital Court Reporting are being accepted in more and more areas every year.
- Firms and court systems are turning to alternative methods to cover the need.
- Court reporting is a $2.4 billion industry.
- Consolidation and buyouts are rapidly reducing the number of firms in the marketplace.
- Insurance companies and corporations are being driven to cut costs and decrease legal spending resulting in stagnant prices across the industry.
- The client ultimately cares more about the quality of the transcript than the method by which it was taken down.
Truth #1 – Stenography
Stenography is the most widespread and recognized form of court reporting. In the past stenography was considered the “gold standard,” and it in many respects is the benchmark by which the industry is judged. Stenography has been around the longest, so it is no surprise it is accepted in every state and jurisdiction; especially since the National Court Reporting Association (NCRA) has worked hard to keep it that way through lobbying, social media campaigns, and their local state chapters’ connections to government.
The pride of stenographers is based on speed and accuracy. Stenographers go to school for between two-to-five years to try and hit a golden number of words per minute. School graduation requirements range from 180 WPM to 225 WPM. Stenographers begin their education by learning legal procedure, terminology, decorum, and grammar, but a majority of their time is spent on learning machine language and building speed. Even though speed is one of the most important parts of being a stenographer, less than 10% nationwide have passed the CRR exam or Certified Realtime Reporter. In addition to their notes, many stenographers record audio of the proceeding as a backup to reference while creating the transcript.
Truth # 2 – Voice Writing
Voice writing is a method of court reporting that utilizes speech recognition technology and a voice recording mask to create a record. Using the same Computer Aided Transcription (CAT) technology that the stenographers use, voice writers are able to create a record by repeating what is said in the legal proceeding into their mask, which has a very sensitive microphone inside. The military, especially the Navy, has utilized this method for years and considers it the standard in their proceedings. In the civilian world, voice writing is not as popular and has had trouble becoming mainstream with only about 800 members currently part of the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA), their governing body.
NVRA does not have an approval or accreditation process for training programs like NCRA or AAERT, so it is difficult to track the number of people graduating into the profession. Six programs are listed on their webpage as sponsors, but many others exist across the country. Graduates from these programs strive to get Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR) status, which is focused on speed and accuracy of creating a transcript. Similar to NCRA, NVRA offers a Realtime certification called Realtime Verbatim Reporter (RVR), the number of people who have passed the CRR exam is unavailable at this time but is estimated to be a small percentage of their membership.
The Lie – Digital Court Reporting
The biggest lie in the industry is that digital court reporting is not a reliable or feasible way to take down the record. The truth is that courthouses and firms across the country have been successfully using digital court reporting for years. Digital court reporters record the audio of the proceeding while taking very detailed notes, called annotations. These notes include timestamps, speaker designation, proper names, spellings, and non-verbal actions as well as notes on what is being said. Some more innovative companies are even connecting the audio and notes system to ASR systems for immediate transcription. The American Association for Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) lists in their best practices that digital reporters should always record at least one backup audio recording, although many firms require up to three backups.
Training for a digital court reporter is a little different than the other methods, as training is focused more on legal procedure, terminology, and utilization of the technology. Speed is not an issue because everything is being recorded in the most verbatim way possible, which includes the context, tone, and voice of who said what. The transcript is then created after the job using the annotation and audio recording.
AAERT at this time has approved five curriculum that they feel meet their standards. Digital reporters and transcribers interested in certification can take the CER and CET exams, which have the highest bar of difficulty set at 80% for the knowledge exam and 98% for the practical transcription exam.
Issues with all Methods of Court Reporting
No method of court reporting is issue-free. There has been an article circulating the web about a case that had to be retried due to a digital court reporter forgetting to hit record. Stenographers have lost transcripts due to technical issues or have held transcripts hostage. The worst stenography story I have heard is of a disgruntled court reporter who kept writing “I hate my job” over and over. On the voice writing side, there are similar issues with technical problems and lost transcripts, but the most prominent is when words sound the same and the system mis-interprets words in real time.
If you are hiring a reporter, it is about the person you hire, their training, their integrity, and their ability to use the method they have selected. A great stenographer is worth their weight in gold, but so is a great digital reporter and a great voice writer. The end product is what matters. If the transcript is accurate, formatted correctly, and meets the industry standards, the client is happy.
- Get trained and, preferably, certified.
- Make sure you know your equipment.
- Create a great end product.
- There is enough room for everyone.
- Stenography cannot solve this problem alone.
I have included a chart below so you can better understand how the methods compare apples to apples.